Cairo to Amman

I really enjoyed my trip in 2007 that took me on a journey from Bishkek to Tashkent. At the time my wife did not like the idea but afterwards I thought that there were many aspects of the style of journey that she would enjoy. With that in mind I set about trying to find a trip that would interest her. We found a trip with the The Adventure Company that travelled from Cairo to Amman and was not too long and provided sufficient comforts, e.g. air conditioned travel.

The following is my record of our holiday.


It is Monday afternoon and time to make the first step on our journey. Jess gives us a ride to our local railway station at Evesham. The ticket office is "closed for operational reasons", not a particularly auspicious start to our trip. However, the train arrives on time and we buy tickets on the train. The guard said that the ticket included the RailAir bus from Reading to Heathrow Airport. When we get on the bus at Reading the driver says that the ticket isn't valid but lets us on anyway warning us that we may have more difficulty on the return. We then look for a taxi to take us to the Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel, when we tell the driver where we want to go he says that there is a bus, i.e. that he doesn't want to take us such a short distance. Tough, we take the taxi and he gets no tip.

I stayed at this hotel quite recently on business but it also seemed familiar to Lynn, it turns out that it used to be the Ramada which was the hotel that the whole family stayed in when we were moving to live in the USA in the 1990s. I do not expect much from an airport hotel and this one was fine with one exception. We had a light snack in the bar and Lynn fancied a glass of red wine, the house wine was £11:00 for a 250ml glass!


photo of Nile Hilton
Nile Hilton

A short bus ride to London Heathrow Terminal 1 to catch our BMI flight BD771 leaving at 09:15BST and arriving in Cairo at 16:10EEST. An uneventful flight, that is about as good as a flight can be these days. There is no jetbridge and we have to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, as we enter the terminal there is a hotel representative waiting for us to take us through the immigration procedures. Pretty impressive as we are still airside! He sorts out our visas, guides us through immigration -- no queue at the desk we used --, sorts out baggage, customs and puts us in our car. Excellent! We are then treated to our first experience of the chaotic motoring in Cairo. Lane markings on the road are simply decoration, it is a free for all. However, it seems to work, we saw no accidents though there were several broken down vehicles, including a breakdown recovery vehicle that had broken down, that impeded the flow of traffic. We negotiate the security gates at the entrance to the hotel property and then through the metal detectors at the lobby entrance. Registration is painless, we have a room, we've completed the first leg of the journey.

We are staying at the Nile Hilton which, as it's name suggests, is beside the Nile in Downtown Cairo. It has been a pretty long day so we settle for an explore of the hotel and a coffee in the Deli. A little later we finish off the day with a drink and calamari in the rooftop bar, El Mojito.


We are in no hurry so get up when we wake up. The two hour time difference means that we go for a leisurely breakfast at around 9:00. The breakfast buffet is our first opportunity took see some of the Egyptian food that we can expect to become familiar with. The items on the buffet are, helpfully, labelled but this only goes so far. Knowing what something is called is not the same as knowing what it is. Neither Lynn or I are fussy eaters and we are happy to eat anything so we sampled lots of unfamiliar items.

Since the bulk of our holiday is with a group Lynn has not prepared a plan. We decide to try and orient ourselves and get a feel for the city by taking a walk from the hotel. We leave from the front entrance that faces the Nile and head North. The noise, particularly of car horns, is incessant. There are a lot of uniformed men around and we have no real idea of what all the different uniforms are, Police, Military, other? We do not walk far before we reach the 6th October Bridge and the Bus station that is beneath the onramp. Half of the population of Cairo seem to be trying to drive on or off the bridge and the remaining pedestrians are all trying to catch a bus. While we had observed the anarchic nature of the driving we had not considered how that would affect pedestrians. Divers seem to disregard traffic signals unless there is a policemen there to enforce them. Crossing the road proved to be a hair raising experience! We continued North for another Kilometer and decided that there did not seem much point proceeding further in that direction and decided to head back South. To walk along the bank of the Nile involved another hair raising crossing of the Corniche El-Nil. Another couple of road crossings and we get back to the hotel and decide to have a lazy time around the pool.

photo of Nile Hilton pool
Swimming Pool

photo of sunset over Cairo
Sunset from El Mojito

As we enter the hotel I set of the detector in the Lobby but get waved through anyway without any further check. Perhaps they have adopted a form of profiling that is not considered politically correct back home. There are several armed, uniformed personnel in the entrance lobby, cannot identify these gents either, perhaps private security.

Considering that the pool is in the centre of the city the noise level was quite subdued. Along the sides of the pool are cabanas, these are mostly used by families and groups of Moslem women who stay well covered up. It was a pleasant 35°C with a light breeze, so a nice climate for us to chill out and have a relaxing afternoon.

In the evening we try Jazzup, yet another of the Hotel's eateries. It is a bit like a pub, but only superficially. We share a couple of snacks, one a local deep fried minced lamb something or other and a more familiar Quesadilla. Later we head back up to El Mojito on the rooftop to watch the sunset. Yet another snack of chicken wings, though very different to the American snack of the same name accompanied by a litre of Sangria to share. Lynn is beginning to feel that it might be a good idea, after all, to have a plan! It will start tomorrow with a visit to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar and the Islamic Cairo that encompasses the bazaar.


It is Thursday and we have the outline of a plan. However, The best-laid plans of mice and men . . .

Lynn has had a bad night, she has been indisposed with sickness and diarrhoea and is all washed up and does not want to be more than 30 seconds from the nearest toilet. So much for The plan. Around lunch time I persuade her to go with me to the lobby deli. She manages a coffee and some donut which seems to settle her for a while. All she wants to do is sleep so that is what she does most of the afternoon. Our Rough Guide reckons that almost every visitor to Egypt gets diarrhoea at some stage and we are optimistic that it will pass quickly. With this optimistic outlook we decide to book to go see the Sound and Light Show At Giza Pyramids for Friday evening and to resume The plan to visit Khan el-Khalili.

In the evening Lynn eats a light meal of bread and some salad and then we watch the sunset again from El Mojito. We cannot get a table, we settle for stools, it is fully booked. Of course, tomorrow is Friday so it is the local weekend.


Lynn wakes me to say that she is ready to go on the tour she has identified to the bazaar. Unfortunately, she has looked at my phone and forgotten the time difference so she has missed it by a couple of hours. This is probably a good thing. While she feels much better she admits to having slept poorly so we decide to have another lazy day. We have a leisurely breakfast with Lynn's choices being carefully selected and then time around the pool.

Lynn really wants to get out and is confident (?) that she can handle the evening trip to see the Sound and Light Show. A small bus picks us up and there are about 8-10 of us that set off for the Giza plateau. It is farther that I had anticipated and we arrive about 15 minutes before it is scheduled to start. Our guide gets us tickets and in we go. There must be a couple of thousand seats set up but I suspect there were only a couple of hundred at this performance, a benefit of being there out of season. Before the show proper, there was a most incongruous performance by some men dressed in Pharonic garb playing bagpipes! Mercifully, the main event started on time. The show tells the story of the Sphinx who has been the guardian of the city of the dead for five thousand years. It also tells the story of building the pyramids in general and the ones at Giza in particular as well as some other well know characters of ancient Egypt. The narration is accompanied by music and the pyramids and Sphinx are illuminated by coloured lights and features are emphasised by a green laser.

What can I say, was it worth it? It is what is claims to be, a Sound and Light show, and in that respect it was well done and we were satisfied that we got what we had paid for. If you want to learn about the Pyramids, buy a book or take a guided tour during the day. That said, the traffic was pretty bad on the day we visited and I hate to think what it would be like in peak season. The drive back was uninteresting until we had got back across the river. Perhaps it was because it was Friday but the traffic became very heavy. At one intersection there were two roads merging with about 6 lanes merging slowly into two, right in the middle was a cart which was drawn by what must have been a very well behaved horse! The noise of the car horns was deafening even inside the bus. A little later the bus drove to Khan el-Khalili to drop off a couple of people. Lynn was very tempted to finally visit the bazaar but, for some unstated though pretty obvious reason, she was very anxious to get back to our hotel. The driver actually took us through Khan el-Khalili, easing his way through the pedestrian throng. If you had asked me earlier I would have expected the bazaar to be closed, I was amazed at how busy it was at 10:30 in the evening.


Another disturbed night so we had better do something about it. There is a Doctor onsite at the hotel so a visit is or first activity of the day. When we get to the Doctor's office we find about a dozen people already there but Lynn is taken through as soon as we arrive. While I sit waiting I realise that all the others are hotel staff and that hotels guests must have priority, understandable perhaps but I still felt a little uneasy as I waited for Lynn to return. She was initially seen by a nurse and then she was offered a chaperone for the consultation with a male Doctor which she declined. The consultation only cost 200EGP and the two prescriptions a further 10EGP. The Doctor also gave some dietary advice that Lynn followed carefully at breakfast. Today we have to change hotel to join the group we will be travelling with. The concierge gets us a taxi and negotiates a rate (80EGP) to take us to our next hotel. The driver talks a lot and wants to take us anywhere we care to go over the next few days, I declined. He then suggests that he write a receipt for 200EGP so that I can claim extra for my expenses, I guess he assumed that I was travelling on business, once again I declined. He then wrote out a receipt while weaving through the traffic. When we got there he would not honour the original agreed fare which led to an argument that finally resulted in me giving him 100EGP. He carried Hilton stickers on his windscreen, so I have subsequently reported the driver to the Hilton Hotel who I hope will bar him from picking up fares there.

The Oasis Hotel seems nice enough as we wait to check in. The same kind of security apparatus as that in the Nile Hilton is present but no one is operating any of it.

Our room is situated beside on one of the attractive garden squares that characterise this hotel. The gardens vary, some with pools or fountains but all seem to include date palms of different varieties that happen to be in fruit. Early in the evening we have our first contact with The Adventure Company. Our guide, Sharif, calls and asks for a brief meeting in the lobby. When we meet he tells us that he waited for us at the airport but when we didn't show up he left with the others. We explained that we had travelled earlier and after a while he realised that he had seen that our flight number was the same as the others but had neglected to note that the date was different. We hoped that we hadn't gotten off to a bad start with our travel companions who had hung around the airport waiting for us! We arranged to meet Sunday morning.


After breakfast we gather in the lobby to meet our fellow travellers and sort out the admistrivia. It becomes apparent that The Adventure Company operates through local agents and that none of there personnel will be with us. There is a representative of their local Agent, Oscar Tours, as well as Sharif who also works for Oscar Tours. It turns out that there will only be six on this tour and we meet the other four. We hand over our local payment of £100 per person and then what to do about Tipping. The Adventure Company guidance for this PYRAMIDS TO PETRA trip said:

Tipping is an accepted part of everyday life, and you will be expected to tip to reward service. Your Group Leader will be able to give you an indication of when and how much is appropriate. This can vary widely, but please allow £20 per person for this trip. Also, if you wish to tip your Group Leader (in recognition of their contribution towards your overall enjoyment of the holiday) a suggested guideline would be approximately £1 to £2 per person, per day.

The Adventure Company

The local agent suggests that we consider putting the money in a pot and letting the guide deal with tipping and that a more realistic amount would be £25 per person. We accept the advice and hand over the money. The local agent tells us to call him if we have any problem, though it was only later that I realised that he didn't give us a phone number.

Our first day is scheduled to be a busy one. We are joined by a specialist guide, Mohammed, and set off for the nearby Pyramids of Giza. Mohammed gets our tickets and we decide that we would all like to take a look in one of the pyramids. We take Mohammed's advice and opt to buy an additional 25EGP ticket to go into Chephren (Khafre) pyramid. Mohammed started at the Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu's Pyramid or The Great Pyramid of Giza), the only remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He used the Great Pyramid as the backdrop to tell us the overall story of these pyramids. I have to admit to having only a superficial interest in ancient Egypt and it is a testament to Mohammed skill as a guide that he managed to keep my interest. The engineering feats involved in the development and building of the monuments is fascinating, the broad brush of historical change is also interesting, the intricacies of the different dynasties and pharaohs does not hold my interest for very long.

After completing his description as we walked around Cheops we moved to nearby Chephren. No cameras are allowed inside the pyramids so we took care to put them in the bus before joining as short queue where everyone is scanned and searched. I was the first of our group to get to the entrance to the pyramid and it became apparent that it is not easy going. The tunnels it about a metre square, which I did not find very easy given my height, and slopes down quite steeply (I'd estimate ~25°). There are no steps, just horizontal bars, and people go in and out through the same tunnel so you not only have to stoop low but can only use half the width. Oh, and it was hot, >40°C outside and hotter once in the tunnel. As I headed in I heard Lynn say that she was going to give it a miss, I bumped my head several times as I went down about 70 "steps". There is then a shorter horizontal stretch with headroom and then an upward tunnel similar to the first one but shorter, about 30 steps which leads into the burial chamber. The rectangular chamber was bare rock with some graffiti on the one wall Discovered by G Belzoni - March 2 1816. There was what at first I took to be a guide, but not sure and did not trust. He turned out to be charging a fee for some dubious service. After a while Lockyer and Uilleam arrived, it seems that all the girls had turned back. It did not take long to explore the bare chamber so returned by the same route banging my head all the way!

We took a brief trip to a vantage point looking from the west back at the pyramids and then we went to take a look at Chephren's Funerary complex and the Sphinx. Mohammed managed to keep my attention again with his mixture of historical and construction information. I found the controversy around the different opinions about what happened to the nose of the Sphinx particularly entertaining. The details of construction of the Funerary complex that had allowed structures to survive earthquakes was particularly impressive.

We've done the pyramids, next we visit an establishment devoted to papyrus! We heard how it is made and had the opportunity to buy some paintings on papyrus. A couple of our party succumbed to temptation but we managed to resist the urge to buy anything. We then stopped for a quite snack en route to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. We stop at a small kerb side establishment, I risk a lecture on food safety from Sharif when I order falafel with salad in a flatbread (eating salad is apparently equivalent to attempted suicide for westerners). Lynn is still taking medication for her problem and opts for the safe option of a chicken sandwich. When see watches it being prepared she isn't so sure that it is a safe option.

Mohammed's considerable talent as a guide only just managed to engage sufficient of my interest to ensure that I did not wander off for a quiet drink. There is a new museum being built at Giza, I can only hope that it takes a more enlightened approach. I find it hard to believe that Ancient Egypt cannot be made a much more engaging experience. The history buffs among us seemed to enjoy it.

I tend towards being a Philistine, the old fashioned style of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was quite a challenge. I do not mind a little history but only so far as it gives context to how life is lived today.

We return to the hotel and have some time relaxing by the pool before dinner which we eat in the hotel restaurant beside the pool.

When Rouge first met Sharif she called him Omar (after the famous Egyptian actor, Omar Sharif). This became a habit that others caught and that we now have to break!


It is Monday and we have a long drive ahead of us as our destination is the Sinai. Our minibus is full, there are the six of us plus Sharif, our driver and a large guy that we haven't been introduced to in a smart suit. We assume that he is our guide today similar to how Mohammed had been with us on Sunday. For some reason that never becomes apparent to me, we start out by heading to a supermarket in Cairo to buy lunch. Shopping mission accomplished we head East.

We plan to take the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the Suez canal. I am disappointed that we did not get to see the canal, the tunnel entrance does not afford even a glimpse. So much for the itinerary that notes . . . where huge ships appear to sail across the desert . . ..

From the canal we head South and stop briefly at an oasis named Ain Musa - "Springs of Moses". Only one of the wells had any water in it and that was completely covered by floating plastics bottles and other unidentifiable junk. Cannot imagine that anyone has drunk from them in a long time. The view over the Red Sea and of the Oasis was really nice. There were a lot of stalls set up which suggested that during the high season there would have been a lot or merchants plying their wares so I considered us lucky that there were none in evidence. This could be a lovely spot if someone cared to look after it.

We head South along the coast again towards Hammam Faraoun - 'Pharaoh's Bath' where there are several near-boiling hot springs. Arab folklore attributes them to the pharaoh's struggles to extricate himself from the waves that engulfed his army as he chased Moses and the Israelites. We stop here for lunch. We enter one of the caves and it is hot! As hot as any sauna I have ever been in, and the effect was the same. Unlike a sauna we were clothed and in a few seconds we were literally dripping wet. We only went in about 10metres and decided that was enough, we paused for a while near the entrance as Sharif told us that this would protect us from catching flu. We emerging into the cool air that must have been only 40°C! We ate lunch and watched the locals bathing in the sea. Groups of women were sitting in the sea fully covered. No one felt inclined to take a dip.

Another longish ride ahead. We continued South along the coast for a while and then heading inland towards the Oasis of Feiran, the largest oasis in Sinai. Here we will make our penultimate stop at the Convent of Banat Saba's (Seven Sisters). I'm sure Sharif told us a legend about the Seven Sisters that had something to do with their hair, but I'm afraid I have forgotten it. When we got there it was closed!

So on to our final destination The Monastery of St Catherine. We were staying at a small hotel a couple of kilometres Northwest of the monastery. For a brief moment we were pleased to see it had a pool, but it was half full and green. It seems that the hotel only opened for us and we were the only guests. Must be out of season. We had an early meal as we planned to be up at 01:00 tomorrow and tried to get a couple of hours sleep.

It was a long frustrating days travel, none of the stops had been terribly successful. We had to pass through several road checkpoints. It all seemed rather slow an bureaucratic and I never determined what their purpose was. I imagine that they must have been security checkpoints. Our guides seemed to have a successful way of dealing with the people at the checkpoints, they handed over a section of newspaper with the documents. The guards were really pleased, it seems that getting "todays paper" out in the wilds is a real luxury. At one of our stops we noticed that our "smartly dressed guide" was carrying a weapon, it seems that his role was to guard us!


01:00 is a terrible time of day to get up. We join the others for a hot drink and set off for The Monastery of St Catherine. This is the start point for the climb up Mount Sinai to see the sunrise. We have to negotiate security checks and meet out local Bedouin guide. At 02:00 we are ready to start the ascent. The going is not challenging and the uphill climb is modest and our guide sets off at a furious pace. Thought it is the middle of the night there is close to a full moon and there is no difficulty walking without artificial light. We must be one of the first groups to set off and we pass large numbers of camels with their Bedouin handlers offering a camel ride up the mountain. After about 40 minutes it becomes apparent that the fast pace is causing difficulties for Lynn and she is lagging behind. Sharif talks to the guide and asks him to slow the pace and we set off again. Our guide must only have one speed because nothing changes and Lynn is soon trailing and says that she will never make it at this pace and that the others should go on without her and that she will stop. There should be a hut on the path where we can stop for coffee in about 20minutes and she is persuaded to continue to that point. When we get to the stop she decides that she will not go on even though the others give her encouragement. However, she does not believe that the guide will slow down and she doesn't want to cause difficulties for the others that can handle the pace. Lynn hates camels and will not consider the option of riding one to the top. Lynn can be pretty stubborn and, on this occasion, I decided not to push her when she was upset and to return with her. The rest of the party set off again for the summit.

Sharif phoned our driver to arrange to meet us back at the start and then the three of us walked back down to out start point. We had a rather pleasant, unhurried walk back and had time to look at the subtly lit Monastery of St Catherine on the way. We heard along the way that the Monastery was closed today for a religious festival. We return to the hotel and sleep for a few hours. The others return shortly before 09:00 and we join them for breakfast and listen to what we had missed. The guide had continued the fast pace and they arrived 90minutes before sunrise and had to sit around listening to pilgrims singing. They said the sunset was not particularly special, but that may have been to make Lynn feel better.

Lynn was pretty disappointed about what had happened, she had really looked forward to this part of the trip. Things did not improve when it was confirmed that the Monastery was closed and that we would not be able to visit. This meant that we would set off for the coast early.

Our destination is Dahab. Unsurprisingly, the others sleep as we meander through the mountains and yet more checkpoints. The terrain is similar to the previous days travel though there are some areas as we approach the coast where there are large areas of sand. The whole of inland Sinai seems a pretty desolate place and I wonder why people spend so much time fighting over it. We arrive at hotel, The Sphinx, around midday and arrange to meet up for dinner. Lynn and I decide to take a walk and explore Dahab. Its raison d'être seems to be centred on diving. There is not a lot to explore on foot and we walk along the sea enjoying the refreshing breeze and change of vista. We find a nice place serving Illy coffee, a snack and international newspapers. We spend the afternoon lazing by the pool until it is time to meet the others for dinner. Sharif has found a place that has a good selection of fish. We enjoyed squid, lobster, shrimp and sea bass, all except Lockyer who admitted later to not liking fish!


Another early day, we leave in a 4WD at 07:00 for an 8km trip to the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole has unfortunate notoriety due to the number of divers who have died here.

We settle down to eat the snack breakfast we have brought from the hotel while we get fitted out for snorkeling gear. Then it is off to find our camels. Lynn is not happy, she still does not like camels. This time I keep away from the controversy and get comfortable with my own beast. When it is time to set off I am at the front and see that Lynn is sitting on a camel at the back. We head North along the coast and I find that riding a camel as I would a horse is uncomfortable and after a while find a more comfortable position with one leg crossed back around the pommel an over the camels neck. Our destination is a beach a couple of hours ride North. Travel along the beach is easy going but negotiating the headlands is more interesting. After a while we become strung out over a couple of hundred metres and when I look back and it seems that some people are walking behind our camel train. I later discover that Lynn's dislike of camels had reached breaking point while riding across an outcrop and had got off and decided to walk. We arrive at Ras Abu Gallum, our destination, and hear the details of Lynn's camel riding experience.

We get changed into swimming gear and head for the water. It is my turn to be apprehensive, I am not a good swimmer and the sea looks awfully wet. Nevertheless, I don my snorkel and flippers and head in to the shallow but rocky bottomed water. There is a strong tide and strong wind and as soon as I get my head in the water I lose my snorkel. The damned thing sinks! I would have expected it to float. So my first problem is to dive an admittedly short distance to retrieve it. While doing this I loose my flipper! With my snorkel in hand I set about retrieving my flipper that luckily floats. I catch up with the flipper and decide to dispense with the snorkel, I cannot use the things anyway. The efforts to keep control of this diving gear result in a black and damaged toe and the other leg cut on coral! This reinforces my view that swimming is a daft thing to do if you haven't got gills.

I just swim for a while and then call it a day. I go back to our hut, dry off and enjoy Bedouin tea with one of the Bedouin that had come out with us. Much later the others start to come back having had a great time. Unnatural if you ask me.

Time to go back to the Blue Hole and Lynn is not having anything to do with a camel. While we are messing around getting our camels loaded and ready to go she has set off and leads us all the way back to the Blue Hole. She makes better speed than the camels. After we have got off our camels we are walking the last stretch over a hill to the Blue Hole when Sharif points out a deal camel on the rocks below that had fallen from the path. Our assumptions that these creatures are sure footed was obviously mistaken, perhaps Lynn is right.

We eat lunch at the place we got our snorkeling gear from and then everyone, except me that is, goes out to explore the Blue Hole. A couple of hours later they start trickling back and, without exception, wax lyrical on the experience, they all found it truly spectacular. I half regretted, but only for a moment, not having experienced it for myself.

This is our last night in Egypt and we ask Sharif if he can arrange for us to eat some Egyptian food. We go back to the same place that we had eaten fish and have a really good, very filling meal. Although we have had two long days it is almost midnight when we leave the restaurant. It was a pretty expensive meal (200EGP each) considering where we were, but a really good evening.


It is Thursday, our last day in Egypt and we are saved from yet another early start. It is finally decided that we will catch a ferry around midday from Taba. A 90minute drive through the Sinai, with the inevitable checkpoints, and we end up at the ferry terminal. It is small, space for one boat which is already there when we arrive. We have some refreshment before commencing the procedures to exit Egypt. Bureaucracy! We have to show our passport 3 or 4 times and it is, at most, 50m from the entrance to the boat! We are not surprised when the ferry fails to leave on time but we eventually get going.

It is a fairly short crossing to Aqaba in Jordan. It would be perhaps 30km by land but that would have involved passing through Israel. We handed our passports over to a member of the ships crew as we disembarked and were met by our local guide, Jamilla (which she told us means beautiful) who was waiting for us when we arrived. Our passports were returned to us shortly afterwards, suitably stamped.

We board our bus, which was much more spacious and comfortable than the one in Egypt, and head North out of the city. The contrast with Egypt is soon apparent, not only is the bureaucracy more efficient but the traffic discipline is such that I would be happy to drive here! We travel North about 20km and pull over to transfer to a couple of 4WD with Bedouin drivers.

photo of Wadi Rum

photo of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Seven Pillars of Wisdom

[Jebel al-Mazmar]

photo of message

Wadi Rum is where we will be exploring next. We start at the visitor centre and take a first look at the dramatic sight of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the entrance to the wadi that gives this area its name, i.e. Wadi Rum. We are not at the visitor centre for long but do watch a video that gives a little background on the areas history, geology and wildlife.

Our drivers head out into Wadi Rum and start racing each other towards our first objective, one of the places that caravans left messages for each other. Our driver is well ahead and the other goes off on a detour and joins us a little later at a narrow gorge. The others were apparently taken to see a "pyramid", the driver said there were originally four of them but they had given three to Egypt to help with their tourism. The gorge was covered with writing in many languages and was used by caravans to leave messages.

We travelled a short distance to what we were told was "Lawrence's Spring" but was actually Abu Aineh. If you want to see the spring as described in Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" you must take the path behind the Resthouse which climbs to Ain Shelaala. Another short drive and we are at our camping spot for the night. There are half a dozen tents which sleep two people and a large Bedouin style shared tent where we eat a traditional meal that start with a large selection in the style of Metzes followed by grilled chicken, beef and lamb.

As we eat the sun is setting and by the time we have finished eating the sun has set so we move out of the tent and settle by the fire for some serious star gazing. There are mattresses that we lay lie on so that we can just gaze effortlessly. These are great conditions, we are a long way from anywhere so there is no light pollution, we are in the desert so the air is clear and we are at an altitude of about 1000m. Uilleam knew his way around the sky and pointed out constellations but we all managed to see shooting stars and satellites. The Milky Way was clearly visible. Unfortunately the moon rose at about 23:30 and washed out all but the brightest stars. At this point people decided what to do for sleeping arrangements, Uilleam, Rouge and I decided to stay where we were and just sleep under the stars. The others, wary of scorpions and snakes, decided to sleep in the tents. I shared bread with our Bedouin host, he warmed bread over the embers which we then ate. Not many words were exchanged.

photo of Um Fruth rock bridge
Um Fruth

rock bridge


The disadvantage of sleeping out under the stars is that you inevitably get woken at sunrise, today that is around 06:00. There are some noisy birds that appear around the camp and I hear the familiar sound of a cockerel somewhere nearby, probably the village of Rum. We laze around a while until everyone is awake and have breakfast at 08:00. It is then time to pack up and set off again with our drivers to explore more of Wadi Rum.

Our first stop is the Um Fruth rock bridge. I cannot resist climbing up and I am soon joined by Rouge, Uilleam and Babe. Lockyer is still having trouble with his feet and wisely decides not to climb in flip-flops, and Lynn doesn't like heights. We are the only ones here, Jamilla tells us that in season there would be scores of people here at this time of day and that there would be a queue of people climbing.

A brief aside. I realise that I have not explained who, or what, Lawrence is in the context of Wadi Rum. Lawrence refers to T. E. Lawrence, more widely known as Lawrence of Arabia.

We then set off to explore other wadis and see some amazing rock formations. One kind looks like some of the sedimentary layers have melted and flowed the intermediate layers. The multiple kinds of rock are complemented by different kinds of sand. Within a single vista you can often see two or three distinctly different colours of sand including red, white and "sandy".

After we have explored a while we stop near a large red sand dune that is piled beside a rock face. We all climb to the top of the sand dune, Lockyer finds it hardest given the state of his feet and when he tries it barefoot the sand is so hot that he has to put his flip-flops back on and keep plodding slowly upwards. It is really hard to judge how high the top of the sand dune is but it isn't high enough so Rouge, Uilleam and I set off up the rocks to get to the top. The views in all directions are spectacular. No where else to go up so it is time to go down. We climb back down until we are at the top of the dune and then run down the dune, exhilarating!

We drive around more of Wadi Rum exploring different vistas until we arrive at a place where there is an image of Lawrence carved in a rock. Nearby was a Bedouin tent that could be used by visitors travelling without a guide and another that was offering "Bedouin hospitality" and a few items for sale. We took the opportunity for a little hospitality. The tea was very good and Lynn bought some of the herbs and spices that they added to the tea to take home. I hope there are no funny ingredients and decide that I should pack it in Lynn bag in case the sniffer dogs at customs become interested :-). One of our drivers persuaded Rouge and Babe to try on some of the traditional women's head wear which looked ok if you ignored what they wore from the neck down!

Our drivers took us for one last speedy drive down sand dunes before we left Wadi Rum to rejoin our bus. Wadi Rum was a superb place to visit!

We have a 90 minute drive to our hotel for the night. We stop at an overlook above Wadi Musa ("Valley of Moses") and study the layout of the valley and the entrance to archaeological site of Petra, tomorrow's destination. According to Jamilla, Moses led the Israelites through Wadi Musa on their journey to the Promised Land, hence it's name. We are staying at Petra Palace Hotel which is only a short walk from the entrance to the archaeological site of Petra. The hotel is generally ok but it does have two swimming pools. Once we had checked in most of us headed to the oval pool that was really good and which we had to ourselves. Another example of the benefit of travelling in the off season. We opt for an early dinner so that we get be off early in the morning. There are not many interesting restaurants, I guess most people are only here for a couple of days and eat in their hotels. We settle on a nearby restaurant and I am more than a bit horrified to see that the menu only has pizza on it! I am relived when Jamilla manages to get us another menu and everyone except Lockyer gives the pizza a miss and chooses a local dish. The starters are pretty good but the main courses do not get much appreciation. As usual, I ate what I was served, if locals will eat it, I will.

The ladies then go for a Turkish bath, the gents go back to the hotel for a beer, or two. When the girls are done they join us in the bar and tell us how much they enjoyed their wash and scrub. The scrub seems to have been particularly effective and they look paler after the scrub removed what they had thought was a tan.


photo of Al Khazneh (The Treasury)
Al Khazneh

The Treasury

Today were are going to "do" Petra. I have heard of it and seen it in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but beyond that I know very little. I did not read about it in our guide book beforehand because I like to be surprised, thought it also means that sometimes I am disappointed. We have breakfast in the Hotel and set off for the short walk to the Visitor Centre that is the entrance.

The walk from the Visitor Centre to what I think of as Petra takes you through a wide valley with a number of huge rock Djinn. Pretty soon you get to the start of the Siq, a narrow gorge that winds its way for about 1.5km until it ends at Petra's iconic ruin, Al Khazneh. Only ever having seen the Siq in the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade I was not prepared for how long it is. The Siq leads gradually downwards and there are smaller gorges that connect to it at intervals. Some of these have walls built across them to try and control flash floods. There is a channel cut into the side of the Siq that bas created to carry water all the way through the Siq, a nice bit of early water engineering. Along the way there were various carvings depicting the caravans that used to travel through this land. There were even a few small shrubs and fig trees that had managed to take root in the walls of the gorge that rarely sees sun or water.

As you approach the end of the Siq you get your first glimpse of Al Khazneh (The Treasury). This is the first such structure that you see in Petra and probably the best of its kind. Like many others we spent a while looking around this area, we did not realise at that time how much more there is to see. The Treasury is mostly a facade, there is a large room cut into the rock behind but little else. The Treasury and similar elaborate "buildings" (caves?) were used as burial places.

As you walk further into Petra and reach the Outer Siq we explored some of the caves on our left just before you reach the Street of Facades. The colours in the rock are no longer the soft pink of The Treasury but are a much more complex blend of colours rippling through the rocks. I have never seen rock like this before. It would be a crime to cover the walls of your cave if they were as amazing as this. We continued along the main path and just past the theater was a reproduction Nabatean village and a public toilet. We visited the toilet because it was in another cave with beautifully coloured rock. Why were rested in the shade Lynn and Lockyer had their head scarves tied in the local style by local Bedouin. Our next stop objective was the Royal Tombs which are set in the East Cliff. From here we could look North-West and see the dip in the mountains where Ad-Deir is situated and our main objective for the afternoon.

We journeyed via Petra Church which was only uncovered in 1990. It has a modern roof structure covering the site which afforded some relief from the sun which by now was strong. The Byzantine church is thought to have been built in the late 5th century and burned down around 600. There is not much left of the structure of the Church but there are some well preserved floor mosaics. We continued on down to an area near the Museum where there were some restaurants and an opportunity for a snack. There were no snacks available, all the restaurants only catered for full buffet meals and none of us were that hungry, so we stopped briefly for a drink and then set off again.

photo of Ad-Deir (The Monastery)
The Monastery

The trip up to Ad-Deir was supposedly 800 steps. As we started out I was reminded of Mt Sinai, in this case there were offers of donkeys rather than camels to take you to the top. The climbing was not difficult and there were sometimes long stretches between "steps". Some of the steps were very worn and indistinct and make the self imposed task of counting them quite challenging. At the highest point I had counted 784 steps. When I was standing at the highest point I did wonder if it had been worth the climb, al I could see were a few more caves one of which appeared to be a cafe. I set off towards the cafe and after a few steps Ad-Deir (The Monastery) comes into view on my right. The climb was worth it, The Monastery is the second best facade after The Treasury.

While we had reached The Monastery we had not reached the best vantage point, for this we had to climb a little further in order to see the View. There were a number of false horizons so it was farther than anticipated, but there were some good views looking North from a small promontory. On this promontory was a small Bedouin shop offering the inevitable "Bedouin hospitality".

By now we have got used to the very sweet tea they serve and accepted the "Bedouin hospitality". The fellow running it, self styled Bedouin 2010, was an amiable chap and told us that he had just restarted work after getting married.

Sometime earlier Jamilla had told us a tale about the Bedouin that lived in Petra. The Bedouin had been still living in the caves until quite recently and were persuaded to move into modern dwellings a short distance North. After a while the Bedouin had realised that they did not have enough space to meet their needs and asked the Government to give them some more. The Government refused. The Sheikh was not satisfied and told the Bedouin to move back into their old holes, this they did overnight. Shortly after this the Government saw fit to increase the space made available to Bedouin. Bedouin 2010 was the son of the Sheikh.

Someone asked him if he climbed those steps every day to which he replied that he travelled by "Bedouin Ferrari". As we leave we see his "Bedouin Ferrari", i.e. donkey, tied up beside the tent. We head back to the cafe near The Monastery for a rest and a drink and then set off back down the mountain.

In an attempt to get ahead I set off quickly. On the way down I met a little Bedouin girl who had leaned to beg in the most profitable tongues -- "Chewing gum", American -- "Bon Bon", French -- "sweetie", English. Unable to oblige with any of these items I gave her a pen and a ticket. The paper delighted her.


When we got to the bottom we started to make our way back. We had worked our way through the Roman part and were approaching the Outer Siq when we first heard, and then saw some loud US Marines at first riding camels and later in the Siq, donkeys. The walk back through the Siq was not a nice as the walk down this morning. There were now many more people and a lot of dust was raised donkeys and donkey carts.

We leave Petra and head back to our hotel looking in a couple of shops along the way. Rouge slips away to do a little shopping which alarms Jamilla when she realises she is not with us though we aren't concerned, Rouge is a big girl!

We arrange to meet for dinner and go our own ways. All ways seem to end up at "our" pool which, shock horror, there are two strangers making use of! However, we didn't stay long, the sun was low in the sky which left the pool in shade and making it surprisingly cool after the heat of the day. We went to a nearby restaurant for a buffet dinner that served really good salads. Babe got a bit of a shock when she chose an innocuous looking pasta salad, it was very spicy and she does not like hot food. Strange I know, but it takes all types! They served baklava for desert which is when we discovered that Rouge has a sweet tooth. Excellent news was that they also served beer, a Jordanian brand called Philadelphia (the capital city was once called Philadelphia). It is not the best beer I ever tasted but it was certainly enjoyed by all.

Lynn and Rouge go for a look at a nearby gallery while everyone else calls it a night.

A quality retail opportunity presented itself with a visit to a nearby gallery. There were exquisite textiles and embroidery in the form of cushions, wall hangings and Bedouin silver. I bought a silver Gecko for my eldest daughter. I would have been tempted to buy more but they did not take credit cards. At least 50% of the purchase price goes to nature conservation.



It is Sunday and we get a lie in, we have a late breakfast and leave at 10:00. As we head out of Wadi Musa we stop for no apparent reason. It seems Rouge's sweet tooth has got the better of her and she has arranged with Jamilla to stop at a bakery to buy a selection of baklava. It must be popular here, the bakery only seems to sell pastries and they are prepared on huge round platters (around 1m in diameter).

We stopped briefly at Shobak castle, the first castle to be built by the Crusaders beyond the River Jordan. Lynn knew more about this place than our local guide since she had studied the Crusades as part of her history degree.

We arrive at our destination, Dana Nature Reserve, at around midday. The Adventure Company normally stay at the Dana Guest House but we will be camping at Rummana Campsite which overlooks Wadi Dana. Our driver drops us off at the entrance to the Reserve but the Dana truck cannot pick us up for 15 minutes. We decide it is a nice day for a walk and since we can see the campsite a couple of kilometers below there is no danger of getting lost.

The simplest route was to simply follow the road. It is all downhill but the road is pretty steep in places. I walked on ahead with Lockyer and when we arrived we had to wait 10-15 minutes for the others to catch up. After all the walking we had done though mountains and deserts, Babe had fallen while walking on the road and cut her leg! We were shown our tests and were told that four other people would be staying tonight at our campsite, we would have to share Rummana Campsite with others!

photo of Jebel-Rummana from campsite
from campsite

The Rummana Campsite is set amid spectacular scenery and in addition to the tents there is a communal Bedouin tent as well as toilets and (cold) showers. We laze around in Bedouin tent during the heat of the afternoon. We drank Bedouin tea and ate baklava that had been bought earlier. Seven different kinds of baklava, one piece of each kind for each of us. Many were too sweet for my taste but I sampled all seven kinds. We slept, read and listened to Jamilla telling us about life in Jordan and her life here as a Muslim. There were a lot of flies, dunno why, but they were annoying and disrupted the restful afternoon. Eventually I had enough of the flies and inactivity and went for a walk with Lynn around the campsite perimeter where we saw lots of lizards. We also went down to the hide which was set up near a waterhole away from the campsite. Here we saw lots of kinds of bird but nothing else.

We set out for a hike to see the sunset. We head Northwest climbing Jebel Rummana (1300m) with our local guide giving us a running commentary on Dana Nature Reserve as a whole and the specifics of the flora fauna that we saw along the way. I learned that the tall, white, flower spike I had seen in Petra and here was a type of onion. It is not edible by humans but porcupines dig them up to eat.

We got to the top for a nice enough, but not particularly spectacular, sunset. We circled the top of Jebel Rummana and then started down again. On the way up we were told that we would take an easier route back down but the guide took us back the way we had ascended. This did not matter at first but as the twilight faded it became increasingly difficult. Lynn started to have difficulty, she doesn't really like heights and the sheer drops were unnerving her with the poor light. We had a torch with us and that helped her a lot. Unfortunately, the torch messed up the night sight of everyone else and it took a long time to get back down the mountain. A guide came up from the camp with more torches and we eventually made it back safely and in time for an enjoyable evening meal. We stayed up late star gazing and talking.

photo of Ibex at Dana
Ibex, by Rouge


That Monday morning feeling, not really, but today we will head for Amman and the end of our trip. Camping means waking early, most of us are stirring around sunrise. Rouge is not only awake but thinking and heads off to the hide and is fortunate to see several ibex. We have a leisurely breakfast, and the best ful I have eaten. We take the Dana truck back to the Tower entrance and transfer our gear to the bus. We get our driver to agree to a small detour to Dana Visitor Centre. This is where the Dana Guest House is located and it looks quite nice, but I am glad we camped instead. There was some nice merchandise and most people bought something before we set off for Amman.

photo of food at Tawaheen Al-Hawa
at Tawaheen Al-Hawa

Jamilla had booked a table for lunch at Tawaheen Al-Hawa restaurant. This is a nice place to eat and the food was very good. This is an example of over organisation. Jamilla would be leaving us as soon as we reached our hotel and this was her last opportunity to eat with us but our preference, had we been asked, would have been to go out for a meal in the evening. Oh well, c'est la vie, it was nice food.

The Commodore Hotel, Amman, is where we will be staying for the last night of the tour. It is an unprepossessing hotel and the taps in the room did not work, guaranteed not to make a good impression. We are only there for one night. We then have to sort out the tip for the driver, Jamilla was not helpful here, we do not know what is normal in Jordan and followed the guidance given by The Adventure Company. The driver did not look happy. We applied the same principle to come up with an amount for Jamilla.

We had one last question for Jamilla with respect to what would happen at the airport with respect to visas and exit. Only three people planned to leave together and we could not establish what kind of visa had been obtained when we entered the country. I, for one, was not happy about this. The Adventure Company knew we were not all leaving together and that a group visa was not appropriate. I guess we would all find out at the airport.

We decide on one last outing. We take a couple of taxis to the Roman Amphitheatre in downtown Amman. It is in a good state of repair but not much different to the other Roman amphitheatres I have seen. There are also two small museums each side of the stage which are worth a visit. We fancy a drink a sit in a cafe under some trees in the Forum that is just outside the Amphitheatre. We then decide to explore downtown a little. Finding our way around is a little tricky, we have a map with English names on it, but not a very good one, and the few streets that have names have them written, reasonably enough, in Arabic.

We walk past Al Husseini Mosque and into a bustling street of small shops. We explore this area for a while and then, for no particular reason that I can recall, we decide to head for King Faisal Street. The decision was the easy part, finding it proved more of a challenge but we relied an "a sense of direction" as the street signs had disappeared. We ended up at one of several cafes at the Southern end of King Hussein Street. The prices here were much cheaper than the tourist places we had visited in Petra, coffee and cakes for 6 was only 6.50JOD. The cafe sold baklava and Rouge couldn't resist, she bought a huge box to take home with her.

Rouge uses her invaluable Arabic skill to find us a couple of taxis to take us back to the hotel where we end the evening with a couple of drinks in the hotel bar. That is the end of our time together and we say our farewells.


I get a text message from Rouge letting me know that they did have a bit of a wrinkle with respect to the Visa but not serious. Their flight was overbooked and had been offered 300USD if they were prepared to switch to a later one, Rouge had already started spending. We ate breakfast in the hotel and decided we may as well move on to the hotel we had booked for our last couple of days.

The Marriott Hotel was only a few minutes taxi ride and we arrived well before regular checkin time. Security at the gate was quick and efficient but examined the taxi thoroughly before allowing entrance to the grounds. The receptionist is as helpful as I have come to expect from Marriott and expedites a room while we take coffee in the lobby. We have a nice room looking West over the swimming pool which looks so tempting that we spend the afternoon lazing around it. It does not take long before Lynn has come up with rudiments of a plan, she believes that it would be ludicrous to miss the opportunity to visit the Dead Sea when it is only 50km away.

Lynn explores a few options and we make arrangements to visit tomorrow, our last day. We eat dinner at Champions Sports Bar & Restaurant, a familiar style we've become accustomed to in many Marriott Hotels over the years.


Our last day in Amman and, as usual, Lynn has a Plan. We start with a nice leisurely breakfast in the hotel and then it is time to be off.

photo of Black Sea from Marriott pool
Black Sea
, from
Marriott pool

A hotel provided driver is to take us to their partner Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa which is located on the Eastern shore of the Dead Sea. It takes about an hour to get there and then we go to the spa to drop off our things and change. For Lynn the first thing to do is swim in the Dead Sea. Although the Hotel Lobby is at an altitude of -383m it is still quite a way down to the sea, sea level is falling at about 1m per year, which is now at -420m. The water is warm, not surprising as the air temperature is ~43°C, but has a strange appearance. It almost looks oily which I assume is due to its high salinity. I played around in it a while experimenting with the unusual buoyancy but one that was done the novelty was over and I'd had enough. Lynn stayed in a lot longer and swam out quite a way. Eventually she came back and we used the beach showers to get rid of the salt. We spent a little time in the spa before Lynn went swimming in the infinity pool overlooking the Sea followed by another dip in the Sea while I have a peaceful read. Mid-afternoon we pack up and our driver is waiting to take us back to Amman.


photo of Lynn at breakfast

important for some

We have to leave before the restaurant opens for breakfast. Lynn is an early morning person who also happens to like breakfast so I arrange for her to have a room service breakfast. Cannot eat early in the morning. A hotel driver takes us to the Queen Alia International Airport. Procedures are somewhat different to other airports and the first task is to go through security and baggage screening. Women go through a dedicated security channel. We get to the BMI checkin desk and it is, once again, overbooked. We are offered the option to take a to take a Royal Jordanian flight that leaves two hours later for 300USD. Sounds familiar, we are in no hurry so accept the offer. About an hour before the BMI flight is due to leave they conform that we will take up the offer and start the rebooking process. Things go downhill from here on.

The Royal Jordanian flight is also full so they start looking for alternative routings. Several are tried before they arrive at a routing via Cairo that doesn't leave till midday and the Cairo Heathrow flight doesn't depart until 16:30! To quote Queen Victoria We are not amused. The Royal Jordanian airline lounge is very pleasant as we while away the hours in Amman. The airline lounge in Cairo is mediocre at best. The flights are uneventful and we arrive in London at around 21:00 which does not leave much time to get to Reading for the last train home. I go to BMI to claim our compensation while Lynn collects the baggage and we manage to catch the RailAir bus that gets us to Reading just a few minutes before a train leaves for Oxford and we just manage to catch it. We get off at Oxford to change for the next train to Evesham and discover that the train has been replaced by a bus that will not arrive in Evesham until 01:00! The bus gets in a little early and we rush off to get a taxi home but no taxis at the station which leaves us with an admittedly short walk into town to the taxi rank. Just as we leave the station one of our fellow bus passengers offers us a lift, which we accept gratefully, but decides to take us home rather than to the taxi rank. A very kind chap from Elmley Castle!

Relief, we are home at last. Arghhh!, I have left my rucksack on the bus! I get in the car and try and catch the bus before it gets to Worcester but fail. I phone the bus company and leave them a message and call it a day, what a day.  sad face


Some more photographs from this trip can be seen in my Cairo to Amman album on Picasa.

The Good

The net is that this was a really good holiday. The combination of time on our own before and after the trip combined with the organised trip was a good recipe that we may well try again. Going out of season turned out to be a good thing, the heat was not an issue as it was not much different to Texas where we lived for a few years. The reduction is numbers of tourists at hotspots such as Petra was a great benefit.

Jordan was a revelation, Wadi Rum, Petra and Dana Nature Reserve were all great places to visit and I would recommend them to anyone.

The people we were to travel with would be as significant a factor in our enjoyment as the places to be visited. While we were a little apprehensive when we realised that there would only be six of us and the age span was over 30 years, it soon became apparent that this would not be a problem. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my fellow travellers, they were an interesting collection of individuals and a pleasure to spend time with.

The Bad

Nothing terribly bad to record. I do not feel any great urge to return to Egypt though I understand why divers flock to the Red Sea.

I have a number of minor niggles with the organisation of the trip by The Adventure Company. The part of the trip around Mt Sinai was pretty badly organised with two featured destinations closed and a mountain guide that had only one pace. The coordination between the agents in the two countries was at best poor. That said, I would probably travel with them again though I would be wary if it involved more than one country.

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